Our Labour councillor for Bargate, Sarah Bogle, reflects on progress towards greater equality of representation for women in this important centenary year for women’s suffrage.
Tuesday 6th February was the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which historically gave (some) women the vote for the first time, 8.5 million women over 30 and who owned property.
Equality of voting age (at 21) with men did not come till a decade later, but this was a significant step forward after many years of campaigning and protest.
1918 was also the year that women first got the right to stand for the UK Parliament, and 100 years on, we now have 208 women MPs 32% of the total.
Local government should be more representative, but only stands at 33% (ref: Fawcett Society report April 2018). Southampton has made some progress at this year’s local elections in May 2018, where now 11 (44%) of Labour’s 25 Councillors are women. This is solely as a result of the Labour Party’s policy of using all women shortlists (AWS) in winnable seats and encouraging more women to stand. Sadly, the overall figure remains below the national average for Southampton City Council at just 14 of the 48, 29%.
I was first elected as a Councillor in Bargate on a 15% turnout, at which point I was delighted to be elected but quite upset at the level of voter engagement. Turnout percentages have increased, but this has partly because many of our more transient population are not registering in the first place, because of the new individual voter registration system. Many people are now effectively disenfranchised as a result.
It is strange to think that women were prepared to die for this right to vote not that long ago, and many countries, that right is still not established. Now, significant numbers do not even register to vote, and many never use their vote, particularly in local elections. I hope the focus on this important centenary this year will inspire more people, and particularly women to use that vote and keep fighting for the equality we deserve.
References: Sex and Power 2018 Fawcett Society Report https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ea2cb329-e6e0-4e0f-8a0b-5022f99bc915